Gov. Rick Scott broke out some new tax-cut numbers this week --- $500 million approved during this year’s legislative session and $10 billion since taking office --- as the anticipated U.S. Senate candidate made appearances across the state to tout his legislative record.
Scott’s math for the 2018 session combines a $170 million package (HB 7087) that was approved Sunday with $377 million tied to a budget decision to hold down local property taxes that help fund public schools.
But while Scott touted his tax-cutting record, Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon, through the Florida Democratic Party, argued that Scott is trying to mislead Floridians, including on the school-tax issue.
“Instead of being honest about how he’s tried to make working families pay more, Scott is doing what he always does --- trying to tell a dishonest story that makes himself look good and advances his own political interests,” Gannon, a former House member, said.
The school issue deals with part of the school-funding formula known as the “required local effort,” which is made up of local property taxes.
If lawmakers held the tax rate steady, it would have brought in more money because of rising property values. But the House objected to holding the rate steady, arguing that would amount to a tax increase on property owners.
Under a budget compromise, the House and Senate agreed to use increased property-tax revenues from newly constructed homes and businesses. But they also agreed to lower the tax rate on existing properties to offset potential tax increases caused by higher values.
Gannon’s criticism of Scott is based, in part, on the fact that he has supported using the increased property-tax revenues in the past --- and now he is counting the money in his tax-cut achievements.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, argued on the first day of the legislative session in January that use of the “required local effort” is a tax increase.
“We will not sit passively and allow the required local effort to be raised,” Corcoran said at the time. “Our laws say that a local government that does not move to the rolled back rate is raising taxes, so it would be the height of hypocrisy for us to do otherwise.”
As for the $10 billion mark, the figure is reached by mixing a variety of tax and fee decisions. They include such things as back-to-school sales tax “holidays;” reductions in a commercial-lease tax; reductions in property taxes at the five water-management districts; lower motor-vehicle registration fees; and a reduction in the communications-services tax on cell-phone and cable-television services. The governor’s office calculates the cumulative savings at $10.3 billion.
In November, the governor’s office proclaimed that taxes had been cut 75 times since Scott took office, “saving Floridians more than $7.5 billion.” That came as he requested $180 million in tax cuts for the 2018 session.
Two years ago, when announcing he would sign a budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, a release from the governor’s office said. “Scott has cut taxes over 55 times, which has saved Floridians $5.5 billion.”
GUN POSITIONS IN GOVERNOR’S RACE
If the decision were up to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Florida probably wouldn’t be defending itself against a lawsuit by the National Rifle Association.
Putnam, running to the right for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said during an interview Tuesday with Fox 13 News in Tampa that he most likely would have vetoed the “public safety” bill (SB 7026) that Scott signed last Friday in response to the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The NRA filed a federal lawsuit challenging part of the bill that would increase from 18 to 21 the minimum age to buy rifles and other long guns. The bill also requires a three-day waiting period on such purchases.
“I oppose the longer wait, which would not have altered anything about this situation, in fact Gov. Scott was also opposed to that, and I oppose raising it from 18 to 21,” Putnam said before being asked if he would have signed the bill into law.
"Likely not, because I oppose raising it from 18 to 21," Putnam said. "I don’t believe that that’s the right approach.”
Putnam’s opposition matches the NRA’s assertion that raising the age is unconstitutional, though the state has a minimum age of 21 for buying handguns.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum, Philip Levine, Chris King and Gwen Graham also questioned the legislation, primarily because it does not address the sale of “assault” weapons, including the type of semi-automatic rifle used in the school shooting that killed 17 people.
Corcoran, who many people expect to run for governor, issued a release after the legislation was approved by the House, saying, in part, “For those, like me, who love the blessings of our Constitution, we have passed the greatest advancement of 2nd Amendment protections in our state's history."
DRILLING OFF THE TABLE?
Enterprise Florida, the state’s business-recruitment agency, expects waters off the Florida coast won’t be included in the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plans, despite U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s warning that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told members of Congress this week that “Florida is still in the process.”
“The secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, in front of the Senate Energy Committee today (Tuesday), has just said very confusingly --- but bottom line --- Florida is still on the table for drilling off of the coast of Florida,” Nelson said in a prepared statement. “This is exactly the opposite of what the people of Florida want.”
Zinke flew to Tallahassee on Jan. 9, meeting briefly with Scott and reporters, and announced that currently protected parts of the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida would not be included in a federal five-year offshore oil and gas drilling program.
Nelson, who is expected to face a challenge this fall from Scott for his Senate seat, called Zinke’s announcement in January a “political stunt” to further the governor’s career.
On Wednesday, Amy Gowder, vice president and general manager for Lockheed Martin’s Training and Logistics Solutions and a member of the Enterprise Florida board of directors, said officials expect Zinke to keep his word.
“The department has still not revised their maps yet to reflect that agreement, but we expect a report that is due to Congress by the end of the month,” Gowder told members of an Enterprise Florida committee.
As with Nelson, Enterprise Florida views potential drilling as a threat to military installations and the state’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “This morning in St. Pete, when asked about Florida's weak texting & driving laws, @FLGovScott seemed unaware @joenegronfl killed the reform. ‘Our session just ended ... so I'm reviewing that bill.’ " --- WTSP reporter Noah Pranksy (@noahpransky), referring to a bill that died in the Senate. The bill would have made texting while driving a “primary” traffic offense.
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